Erith & Belvedere pay their tributes to Larry O'Connell: We will remember him as a man who had time and a friendly word for everybody and one of the greatest gents you could ever wish to meet
Anyone connected with Erith & Belvedere FC and anyone interested in boxing will be sad to hear of the death of Larry O'Connell.
O’Connell, who died on 30 December at the age of 81, had suffered with Alzheimers in recent years.
As a referee and judge, O’Connell handled dozens of title fights involving many of the sport’s biggest stars of the past 45 years, including such names as Tyson, Lewis, Bruno, Hamed, Calzaghe, Haye, Mayweather and Pacquiao.
A member of Fitzroy Lodge boxing club, O’Connell became SE London ABA lightweight champion in 1958 at the age of 19 and was twice runner-up in the national ABA light-welterweight championship in 1963 and 1965, both times to Olympic gold medallist Dick McTaggart.
In May 1975 he handled his first fight as a referee at the National Sporting Club at the Cafe Royal and over the next few years built a reputation for his knowledge and authority, handling early fights involving Kirkland Laing, Clinton McKenzie and Lloyd Honeyghan.
He refereed his first title fight in December 1984, when Barry McGuigan defeated Clyde Ruan in Belfast to retain the British and European featherweight title.
The previous month, O’Connell had made his big fight debut as a judge, at a British, Empire and European middleweight title bout in which Tony Sibson beat Mark Kaylor at Wembley Arena.
According to the BoxRec website, O'Connell refereed no fewer than 962 bouts and was a judge at 127, from Luton Town Football Club to Las Vegas via South Korea and Shepton Mallet (scene of a Naseem Hamed fight in 1995).
His biggest fights include Lennox Lewis v Gary Mason (referee, 1991), Chris Eubank v Nigel Benn (referee, 1993), Mike Tyson v Frank Bruno (judge, 1996), Lennox Lewis v Evander Holyfield (judge, 1999).
The last of these was the controversial drawn bout at Madison Square Garden, where O’Connell scored the fight as a draw – and many others will always be ready to defend the verdict!
Erith & Belvedere Football club historian Brian Spurrell said: "The General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, Robert Smith, has said that O’Connell was a true gent and a credit to British boxing throughout the world.
“Larry was also a huge supporter of Erith & Belvedere FC. He often told how his father, a Deres committee man, had returned to their Belvedere home on demob after the war and taken him, then aged seven, to Park View for his first match the very next day.
“He was a keen footballer, but said that it was when he came up against Peter Bird, a Deres Colts player in the mid-50s, that he was persuaded that as a footballer he would make a good boxer!
“He nevertheless spent time as a fitness trainer with Slade Green FC while ex-Dere Charlie Fuller was their manager.
“He became club president in 1986 and generations of Deres players and supporters had the immense pleasure of his company over the years: always immaculately dressed and unfailingly polite.
“Although as anyone who fancied a friendly spar will recall, he had a fast punch well into his 70s!
“I was particularly proud to organise "An Evening with Larry O'Connell" back in October 2010, at which this wonderfully modest man was persuaded to talk about his career to an enthralled audience, one of whom was an old boxing friend he hadn't met since 1960!
“However, it was six years ago this week that we learned he had been diagnosed with dementia, after which his visits to the club became increasingly rare. He lived his last couple of years in a care home.
“We will remember him as a man who had time and a friendly word for everybody and one of the greatest gents you could ever wish to meet. Rest in peace Larry.”
The funeral will take place on Tuesday 21 January 2020 at 12 noon at Thames View Crematorium, Gravesend Road, Gravesend DA12 3JH.